Florida Keys News
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Migrant windsurfs to U.S. from Cuba

A Cuban migrant windsurfed from Cuba to Key West Tuesday, but two other windsurfers he was with were apparently lost in the Gulf Stream about 60 miles south of the Florida Keys, according to Key West police and the Coast Guard.

Henry Hugo Vergara Negrin, 24, came ashore at The Reach Resort, 1435 Simonton St., at 6:35 p.m. and told police he and the others left Jibacoa, Cuba, at 9 a.m. Tuesday bound for the U.S. on windsurfing boards.

Jibacoa is a fishing village in the Mayabeque Province of Cuba on the island nation's northwest coastline.

Coast Guard Cutter Key Biscayne from Key West and the Miami-based Bernard C. Webber Cutter, as well as a Coast Guard twin-engine HC-144 Ocean Sentry search plane, also from Miami, began searching for the other two windsurfers about 7 p.m. Tuesday, said Sector Key West spokesman Ensign Peter Bermont.

There are also fast response boats from Sector Key West patrolling the Keys shoreline in case the other two made it to shore elsewhere, Bermont said.

Negrin told police the other two men were known to him as Amando and Dwarta, but he reportedly did not know or did not provide their last names.

"We're saturating the search area," Bermont said. "He said he lost sight of them approximately 60 nautical miles south of Key West. Part of our search pattern includes following the Gulf Stream drift pattern as well as following the route of the one we know made it ashore."

Negrin was treated briefly Tuesday night at Lower Keys Medical Center after his 9 1/2-hour journey for blisters on his hands before being turned over to U.S. Custom and Border Patrol agents, who processed him at the CBP station in Marathon and then released on his own recognizance, said spokeswoman Elee Erice.

Negrin received aid from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Miami after he was released from the CBP station in Marathon, said Francisco Figueroa of the Church World Service resettlement agency.

The Reach Resort manager Bilal Merjan described Negrin as "exhausted" and looking to be in shock when he arrived.

"He was very cold, shivering," Merjan said. "He didn't speak very much, but he was treated very well."

There were very few guests on the resort's private beach when Negrin arrived, he added.

This is not the first time that Cuban migrants have windsurfed to freedom as six reportedly passed the Florida Straits by such means in 1994, according to published media reports and the Church World Service resettlement agency.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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